"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel!" Mark 1:15
In this rather dark film, Viggo Mortensen plays "Tom Stall," an everyman who lives the quiet midwestern life as a father, husband, faithful citizen, and coffee shop owner. The other people in his small town look up to him as a moral leader even. However, as we come to find out as the movie progresses, his past is anything but quiet and simple. Tom Stall, it seems, has "a history of violence," a checkered past as Joey Cusack where he was a mob hitman who was very good at killing people.
But during three years that he spent in the desert (a desert experience is a common Biblical way of purging the demons from the soul), he repented of his old ways and sought a new life as "Tom Stall," who would go on to meet a wife, have a family, and settle in quiet Millbrook, Indiana.
One might say Joey was "born again" as Tom Stall, but a conversion experience of repentance does not just mean we can simply forget about our past and move on. Every action has consequences, and running from those actions, no matter how sincere our repentence is, cannot be the only answer. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus gives us a two-part exhortation: "Repent AND believe in the gospel." (1:15).
Repenting of the past is only the first part of our journey towards a true life of peace.
When Tom created a life with his wife, he neglected to share his deepest secrets. As Ed Harris notes in the film, "You believe your own lies." This denial of the truth, more than the violence of his past life, is what led to the sudden fissure in the family and life of Tom Stall.
The uncovering of the secrecy and deceit paves the way for violence to re-emerge in sleepy little Millbrook. Violence begets violence, and as Tom's secret comes out, Tom's wife and son start to crumble under the weight of the struggle: hers in the form of suspicion and developing her own lies, his in the form of physical violence at school. The town itself is at a loss, too, since Tom was once seen as a moral leader in the community.
When all is said and done in this film, in the final reels, Tom Stall ambles home to face the beginnings of a "real" redeemed life, one where all the cards are on the table and honest healing of the past can occur. At this point in the movie, we (the audience) are led to create our own sequel in our minds - what will the Stall's new life look like? how will the innate violent tendancies in Tom, his wife, and his son be reconciled? how will Millbrook change in light of this sudden turn of events? What a story that would make!
Jesus teaches us "Repent AND believe in the gospel." To turn our heart towards God is half the battle, to ground our heart in God is the harder journey of faith.
After seeing this film, I was convinced Tom was a villian who had gotten away with murder... but now after some reflection, I see Tom as one of us, perhaps to a more severe degree, sinful and broken before our Maker. We all desire to repent of our checkered pasts - but real penance means confronting those demons instead of just burying them. Then and only then will we have the ability to "believe in the gospel" and live it out each day forward.